Emotionally Repressed Party Chatter

I’ve often been called uptight. I would tend to agree. I understand uptight people in movies. Everyone else thinks they’re the villain, emotionally rigid, or deranged. They just seem sensible to me. This comes, no doubt from a long line of, as Noreen calls them, “Uptight white people.” There are times, however, when the uptight problem turns into a self-abuse spiral. When I go to a speaking engagement, party, or conference, I spend the following day pondering what I may have done that was offensive. I typically have two primary offenses (there are probably many more, but I can only manage two).

First, I meet people who I have met before, but don’t recall them. I’m always careful to introduce myself, even if I’ve just been onstage, and say something such as, “It’s nice to see you, I’m Sean,” or “I’m so glad you’re here tonight.” Most people go with the flow and manage a pleasant conversation. Of course, once in awhile somebody challenges me, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I know I’ve offended them, but the problem isn’t that they aren’t important, it’s that I can’t remember my own family member’s names.

My other problem is turning my back on somebody. I’ll be carrying on a conversation, and in the middle be interrupted by someone else, usually by yanking on my collar. I’ll turn to acknowledge them, and then, the other party feels that I have simply become bored and turned away. Once again, it’s a brain problem. I have a true talent for deep focus on one subject, but I can’t juggle more than one conversation. So, if I have turned my back on you, it is a reflection of my growing senility, not your company.

I was taught a few simple rules by my grandmother who seemed to live only to practice correct manners.

1. No one ever wants to hear, “I know your face, but who are you?” If you can’t recall someone, the best approach is to say something harmless, “That is a really fantastic tie.” Hopefully, he or she will say something to trigger your memory.

2. Alternatively, no one wants to be accused, “You don’t remember me. Do you?” Instead, if you see someone out of context, or haven’t seen him or her for some time, provide some information, “Jane, it’s so good to see you. I’m Peter Meriwether. We met at Alice Thornton’s club.”

3. Never provide unsolicited advice. It is rarely if ever wanted, even by hyperactive attention seeking children.  It is one thing to lean in quietly and say, “Jack, you might want to check your trousers’ zipper.” This is helpful and a friend will always appreciate the heads up. It is quite another to say, “Thomas, your family may have been in politics for generations, but let me give you some tips on the correct way to campaign.” This type of advice only reads as bitter, condescending, and unpleasant, regardless of the intent.

4. When the conversation dips, these are three comments to move it along: “Tell me about your garden. I hear it’s incredible,” “Now, what brought you to Darien (or wherever you are),” and “Would you consider your taste to be traditional or contemporary?” These are all safe subjects and give a platform for conversation. “Did you know your hair is thinning?” is really wrong.

My Uptight White People

Horrid Martinis and Other Disasters

Lack of etiquette is an issue that is the “hot topic” of the month. At a dinner last week, several people complained about “people and their rudeness.” My mother is incredibly uptight about etiquette. If you spend time with her, do not ever speak loudly in public, eat soup with the spoon pulled toward you, or forget to say, “Please excuse me,” not the rude command, “Excuse me!”

I have a copy of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette from 1952. I suspect it was a Christmas gift that I enjoyed, as much as socks when I was seven. I pulled it out recently to look up a form of address issue. Yes, I didn’t now if Senators were referred to as “Senator” or “Honorable.” Much of the book is dated. I certainly don’t bring a tuxedo when visiting friends for the weekend, but maybe I’m just rude and I ruin their dinner plans. Some of it makes good sense. This line is my favorite, and quite true: “There is nothing so horrid as a martini with too much vermouth.”

I also like the telephone etiquette. Rather than saying, “He’s busy. What do you want? Who are you?” it is better to say, “Oh, Miss Johnson, Mr. Adams will be so sorry to hear he missed your call. I can’t reach him right now, but where may he call you? Or is there something I can do?” Much better.

I’ll revisit some of these helpful tips down the road, but I wanted to add my own pet peeve. It is incredibly embarrassing when someone walks up to me and says, “You don’t remember me, do you?” First, I can barely dress myself or remember where to go in the morning. Second, I’m probably senile. I always introduce myself, even if I’ve met someone repeatedly, like this, “Hello, I’m Sean Adams, we met at Betty’s club.” Typically, they say, “Uh, yeah, I know you.” But perhaps they have no idea and now feel much more comfortable. You don’t need to say you met me at Betty’s club. That’s just an example.